Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl

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N.D. Wilson, Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009, 197 pp.  $7.13

Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl, by N.D. Wilson is a fascinating look at God’s creation from a creative perspective.

Several features are worth noting.  First, Wilson reminds readers of the importance of a personal Creator: “For those who believe in ex nihilo creation, the world is inevitably art, and it is inevitably art from top to bottom, in every time and in every place.  The world cannot exist apart from the voice of God.  It is the voicings of God.”  The author demonstrates the absurdity of a creation devoid of a personal Creator.

Second, Wilson demonstrates the utter foolishness of atheism, relativism, and Darwinian natural selection.  He chides the evolutionist and sets his eyes on God’s good creation.  He makes it clear (and rightly so) that he will enjoy God’s good creation.

Third, I appreciate Wilson’s interaction with philosophers like Hume and Kant.  But especially noteworthy is his interaction with the German philosopher, Nietzsche.  I sense he respects Nietzsche and would have savored the opportunity to sit and visit with him in a German tavern.  But Wilson admits a frustration with Nietzsche: “I want to ruffle his hair.  I want to take the poor Lutheran boy’s head in my hands and kiss his creased forehead.  It is all I can do.  I cannot set a bone, let alone a soul.”  Wilson continues with an unforgettable line: “He [Nietzsche] moves on, preaching unbelief to an empty street.”

Finally, the author effectively reminds readers of an eternal hell: “Heaven or Hell is about love and hate.  Do you love God or do you hate him?  Is He foul in your nostrils?  Do you see His art and wish your arm was long enough to reach His face?  Do you spit and curse like Nietzsche?  Would you trade places with the damned thief so that you might see Him die and know that God Himself heard your challenges?”  Wilson continues, “Then Hell is for you.  Hell is for you because God is kind and reserves a place for those who loathe Him to the end, an eternal exile, a joyless haven for those who would eternally add to their guilt, a place where blasphemy will be new every morning … If you displease Him, He will displease you.  He will put you away and remove the grace you have experienced in this world.  With the crutches of His goodness gone, He will leave people to themselves, leave them to their own corrupt desires and devices.”

Thankfully, the author does not leave the reader groveling in hopelessness at the prospect of an eternal hell: “If you want to love Him, then He has already begun giving you change.  He has already begun unclenching your fists, taking your filth to be laundered on the cross.”

Wilson demonstrates that he is well-read and tuned in theologically and philosophically.  For instance, one of my favorite lines in the book is directed Godward: “An infinite God is I AM, and all else must be measured in terms of His nature, His loves, and His loathings.”  This is heady, creative writing.  In fact, some of this stuff is pure genius!  The writing is a strange mixture of Don Miller, Dennis Miller, C.S. Lewis, and G.K Chesterton.

The goodness in Wilson’s work, however, is overshadowed at times by his insistence on using profanity.    For instance, the author skillfully demonstrates the foolishness of rejecting transcendent absolute standards and argues against a relativistic worldview:  “I look in the atheist’s mirror.  I look at his faith in the nonexistence of meaning.  I look at his preaching and painting.  I see nothing but a shi*-storm.”  This kind of banter is totally unnecessary and undercuts the weight of the otherwise legitimate argument.

This growing trend toward the glorification of the profane is an alarming trend in the church, one that needlessly offends and accomplishes absolutely nothing.  This kind of writing is clearly not consistent with the Scriptural mandate, especially Paul’s warning to the Ephesian church: “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking which are out-of-place, but instead let there be thanksgiving” (Eph. 5:4, ESV).  Colossians 3:8 makes it clear that Christ followers are to put away “obscene talk.”  For we have been “renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col. 3:10, ESV).  I can already anticipate the quick response I will receive from postmodern pastors, emergent sympathizers, and enthusiastic bloggers.  But I stand with Scripture on my side.  For “my conscience is held captive by the Word of God.  To go against conscience is neither right nor safe.”  Indeed, it is ironic to lay claim to Luther’s words, given his propensity to use vulgarity.  However, I argue that Luther should have taken the scrub brush to his mouth as well.

I know some Christ-followers who would toss this book into the ash heap because of the vulgarity.  I am not prepared to go that far.  I am not ready toss the baby out with the bathwater.  There is too much good in Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl to justify such a knee-jerk reaction.

Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl made me dizzy.  But it also made me think.  Sometimes it angered me.  At the end of the day, I am glad I came to the “carnival.”  I am glad I decided to jump on the ride.  At times, I felt as if I’d eaten too much cotton candy.  But other times, I felt like buying another “ticket” and riding again – and again!

God the Son Incarnate – Stephen J. Wellum (2016)

god-the-sonStephen J. Wellum, God the Son Incarnate Wheaton: Crossway, 2016, 496 pp, $40.00

God the Son Incarnate by Stephen J. Wellum is the latest installment in the Foundations of Evangelical Theology Series. This outstanding series, edited by John Feinberg was first introduced with the publication of No One Like Him back in 2001.

The author notes that “Jesus himself understood and taught that both Scripture and God’s plan of salvation are Christocenric.” J.I. Packer adds, “Christology is the true hub round which the wheel of theology revolves, and to which its separate spokes must each be correctly anchored if the wheel is not to get bent.” Thus, the stakes could not be any higher as readers wrestle with the weight doctrines that concern the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The book contains four sections, each with a specific topic that relates to the overall matter of Christology:

Part 1: Epistemological Warrant For Christology Today

The first part should be considered the theological rebar of the book. The author explores Christology and its relationship to the Enlightenment. After sufficiently exhausting some of the major challenges to a biblical Christology, Dr. Wellum presents a biblical epistemology that will serve readers well for the remainder of the book.

Part 2: Biblical Warrant for Christology Today

The biblical plot line is presented (creation, fall, redemption, consummation) which gives readers a helpful overview and places Christology in its proper theological context. The concept of “kingdom through covenant” is discussed which ultimately leads to a rigorous discussion of Christology.

Once the biblical and theological parameters are in place, the author moves forward and discusses the self-identity of Jesus. From there, some of the crucial Christological data is ready to be revealed, including the deity and humanity of Christ and the incarnation.

Part 3: Ecclesiological Warrant for Christology Today

Part three includes some of the weighty matters that surround the discipline of Christology including the nature-person distinction and the Ante-Nicene Christological formulation.

Part 4: A Warranted Christology for Today

The final section discusses some of the more recent Christological controversies, most notably the problem of the so-called kenosis. Dr. Wellum fairly evaluates kenoticism, alerting readers to the many problems it contains.

Conclusion

Dr. Wellum nicely summarizes his work: “Ultimately, the thesis of this entire work is one theological conclusion with many parts. Based on the warrant and critique of the previous chapters, we must confess that the identity of the Jesus of the Bible is that he is God the Son incarnate.”

God the Son Incarnate is a much-needed work as the doctrinal winds continue to blow in every direction, which threaten the biblical and historical Christological. This work is a bulwark of certainty and a prompter of praise. My prayer is that it receives a wide readership, both in the church as well as the academy.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

The Legacy of Luther – R.C. Sproul and Stephen Nichols, Ed.

lutherR.C. Sproul and Stephen J. Nichols, The Legacy of Luther. Sanford: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2016, 308 pp. $15.66

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses to the castle door in Wittenberg. One act of courage sparked a theological firestorm in Germany that set the world able in a matter of days. Spreading like wildfire, thousands were introduced to the gospel, which is received by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

The Legacy of Luther celebrates the accomplishments of this godly man. Edited by R.C. Sproul and Stephen Nichols, the book surveys Luther’s life, thought, and ultimately his legacy. A wide range of pastors and theologians contribute to this volume; men like Steven J. Lawson, Michael Horton, Sinclair Ferguson, and Derek Thomas, to name a few.

The Legacy of Luther is a sweeping look at the German Reformer. The book contains basic information that will appeal to first-time students of Luther. But it is also filled with a wealth of information that will satisfy the most deeply entrenched Luther scholar.

The Legacy of Luther certainly honors a significant man who stands head and shoulders above most others in church history. But at the end of the day, the book does not exalt a man; the book exalts the gospel of grace and celebrates the accomplishments of our Savior. The neglected gospel truths which were recovered by the Reformers are proclaimed with passion in zeal in this important volume.

Readers may be interested in my recently published book, Bold Reformer: Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther.

What is Reformed Theology?

R.C. Sproul, What is Reformed Theology? Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016

What is Reformed Theology? originally appeared in 1997. This updated volume has a new cover and new contemporary format. The content, however, remains the same as Dr. Sproul guides readers through the wonders of Reformed Theology.

Part One: Foundations of Reformed Theology

The first half of the book helps readers understand the necessary backdrop of Reformed theology. Of primary importance is its devotion to God. Sproul writes, “Reformed theology is first and foremost theocentric rather than anthropocentric … Reformed theology takes sin seriously because it takes God seriously and because it takes people seriously. Sin offends God and violates human beings. Both of these are serious matters.” The author clarifies that Reformed theology is devoted to more than merely five points. Indeed, Reformed theology is catholic (it embraces the great ecumenical councils and doctrines of church history) and evangelical.

Reformed theology is based on God’s Word alone. The commitment to the sola Scriptura principle is a fundamental aspect of Reformed thought. Therefore, the crucial doctrines of the infallibility, inspiration, authority, and inerrancy of Scripture are at the core of Reformed theology.

Reformed theology embraces the sola fide principle. We agree with Luther who famously said that justification by faith is “the article upon which the church stands or falls.” As such, we repudiate the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification which involves both faith and works.

Finally, the author includes a helpful overview of covenant theology which involves the covenant of redemption, covenant of works, and the covenant of grace.

Part Two: Five Points of Reformed Theology

Part two contains a basic overview of what is traditionally referred to as the five points of Calvinism. Each chapter summarizes the critical elements of the five points, including total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints.

Sproul writes clearly and forcefully. His arguments are biblical and logical and compel readers to embrace these historic biblical doctrines. What is Reformed Theology? is probably the best introduction to the doctrines of grace in print. Other resources include The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination by Lorraine Boettner, The Joy Project by Tony Reinke, The Doctrines of Grace by James Boice, The Five Points of Calvinism by Edwin H. Palmer, and The Potters Freedom by James Boice.

Highly recommended!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

The Temple and the Tabernacle – J. Daniel Hays

J. Daniel Hays, The Temple and the Tabernacle: A Study of God’s Dwelling Places From haysGenesis to Revelation Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016, 208 pp. $11.89

A good book review will help readers determine the good, the bad, and the ugly in a given title. There is nothing bad or ugly in J. Daniel Hays’ new work, The Temple and the Tabernacle. In fact, describing the contents of this book as “good” would be a massive understatement. Dr. Hays sets out to explore the majesty and importance of the dwelling places of God. Beginning in the Old Testament, the author works he way to the culmination of Redemptive history where we find the people of God gathered before his throne, worshipping him in the new heavens and the new earth.

A Brief Synopsis

Six features make The Temple and the Tabernacle especially noteworthy.

First, this is an absolutely beautiful book. The pages are high quality and high-quality photographs and artwork are seen throughout, illustrating different facets of the temple and the tabernacle.

Second, this work is written with different learning levels in mind. Everyone from first year Bible students to seasoned pastors will benefit from the clear writing, throughout.

Third, this work adheres to the testimony of Scripture. The author is careful to cling to the biblical record as he unpacks the various aspects of the temple and the tabernacle.

Fourth, this work explains the big picture, without discounting the details. Hays notes, “Remember that the whole point of building the tabernacle is to create a proper place for the presence of God to dwell in the midst of his people and to travel with them.”

Fifth, this work is Christ-centered. In a book like this, it would be easy to get caught up in the minutia by focusing on the finer elements of the temple and tabernacle. The author does spend a considerable amount of time helping readers understand these things. But as he observes at the beginning of the book, “We want to move beyond the ‘stones’ to grasp the eternal theological truths being revealed to us about God through his presence in the temple/tabernacle.”

The author clearly describes the distinction between an Old Testament economy and the beauty of the new covenant:

“The system of encountering the presence of God that Christ inaugurates is superior to the old tabernacle system at every point. His one perfect sacrifice eliminates the need for any more blood sacrifices, and through this sacrifice Christ provides perfect cleansing for his people, declaring them to be completely ‘holy’ before God … Thus the sacrifice of Christ and the new covenant that he inaugurated enable Christians today to encounter the presence of God in worship and service in a direct manner. He dwells inside each of us.”

Finally, this work exalts God in his majestic holiness. Readers will immediately be struck with awe as they encounter the Old Testament portrait of God, learn of his absence due to Israel’s apostasy, and filled with wonder as they come face-to-face with Jesus in his return to the temple. The author notes, “When the second temple is built, first during the time of Haggai and then by King Herod the Great, there is no mention of the return of the presence of God to dwell in the temple. The presence of God does not return to the temple until Jesus Christ walks through its gates.”

The Temple and the Tabernacle is a book I’ve waited for since my days as a Bible College student. The scholarship is impeccable, and the high points of the Christian worldview appear throughout. Readers will be encouraged as they are reminded of the great reality of the temple and tabernacle. But more than this, they will be motivated to worship God in all his holiness.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Resting in Free Grace – Resisting the Free Grace Movement

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Wayne Grudem, Free Grace Theology: How Free Grace Diminishes the Gospel. Wheaton: Crossway, 2016, 160 pp. $11.42

Theological disputes have a tendency of generating more heat than light. The controversy surrounding the so-called Free Grace movement is no exception. Ever since the landmark book by John MacArthur was published, The Gospel According to Jesus, competing camps have vigorously fought to maintain their ground. Indeed, both positions including the Free Grace view and the so-called Lordship position have fought as if their lives depended upon it.

But the debate did not find its genesis in the musings of John MacArthur. The debate is as old as the Protestant Reformation itself. The age-old questions remain: How does a sinful person stand in the presence of a holy God? On what basis is this sinner justified? What role (if any) do works play at the moment of justification? Is sanctification a necessary component of the Christian life? And, are works a necessary result of justification?

Disheartened, discouraged, and dismayed. These three terms do not adequately describe my thoughts about the initial reviews of Wayne Grudem’s new book, Free Grace Theology: 5 Ways It Diminishes the Gospel. One review observes, “Wayne Grudem is a Reformed Calvinist, so his views are skewed through Calvinist lenses.” The initial reviews fail to show any degree of constructive interaction with the book. One wonders if these early reviewers even bothered to read the book.

The Free Grace movement, whose primary tenets are found in Zane Hodges book, Absolutely Free. In that book, Hodges maintains,

… Lordship thought abandons the straightforward meaning of the word ‘believe’ and fills the concept of saving faith with illegitimate complications. The result is that the saving transaction is made much more complex than it actually is. But salvation really is simple and, in that sense, it is easy. After all, what could be simpler than to ‘take the water of life freely.’

The primary tenets of the Free Grace movement include:

  • A two-tiered discipleship, or two classes of believers, those who believe but do not follow Christ and those who believe and cast all their hope and future on Christ.
  • No calls to repentance in evangelism.
  • Giving assurance to people who are backslidden or have denounced the Christian faith.
  • Rejecting the notion that good works accompany justifying grace.

Dr. Grudem’s primary contention is that the New Testament clearly teaches two principles which stand in opposition to the Free Grace movement:

  1. Repentance from sin (in the sense of remorse for sin and an internal resolve to forsake it) is necessary for saving faith.
  2. Good works and continuing to believe necessarily follow from saving faith.

Grudem’s arguments against the Free Grace movement are summarized below:

First, the Free Grace movement misunderstands the doctrine of justification by faith alone and as a result, fails to truly teach the doctrine that Luther said, “is the doctrine upon which the church stands or falls.”

Second, the Free Grace movement undermines the gospel by refusing to require repentance in the proclamation of the gospel.

Third, the Free Grace movement offers false assurance to people who make a profession of faith, but may in the final analysis not possess saving faith.

Fourth, the Free Grace movement fails to emphasize the fiducia component of faith, that is, a personal trust or adherence to Christ.

Fifth, the Free Grace movement embraces interpretations that are highly unlikely.

These arguments against the Free Grace movement are further explained in the five chapters of the book. My own view is that Dr. Grudem has succeeded in successfully refuting this movement. He should be commended for the gracious tone throughout this work. He does engage in rigorous polemic but does so without caricaturing his opponents. While he argues strenuously against the Free Grace movement, he admits it is not a false gospel. However, it is a diminished gospel.

Some may argue that the so-called Lordship controversy (a term that Grudem dislikes) is over. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The Free Grace movement continues to influence people and diminish the gospel. Wayne Grudem’s excellent work is a needed corrective and a gracious response to a troubling trend.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

 

FATHER, SON, AND HOLY SPIRIT: RELATIONSHIPS, ROLES, AND RELEVANCE – Bruce A. Ware (2005)

Recent years of scholarship have surfaced some terrific books on the doctrine of the Trinity.  Father, Son, & Holy Spirit: Relationships, Roles & Relevance by Bruce A. Ware is among the best.  Dr. Bruce Ware defines and defends the doctrine of the Trinity with biblical precision, Christ-exalting passion, and theological muscle.

Chapter one unfolds the importance of the doctrine.  Ware draws the reader in by illustrating ten reasons to focus on the “wonder of the Trinity.”  Readers are given a treasure-trove of ammunition that not only demonstrates the rationale of this doctrine; it shows the practical ramifications for marriage, career, and relationships in the local church.

Chapter two surveys the long history of the doctrine.  The author shows why the early Christians accepted the Trinitarian formulation.  His explanation is rooted in both Scripture and the writings of the church fathers.

Chapters 3-5 takes an in-depth look at the respective roles of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Dr. Ware makes it clear throughout his treatment that “every essential attribute of God’s nature is possessed by the Father, Son, and Spirit equally and fully.”  Each chapter concludes with practical and powerful points of application.  There is no abstraction here.  Dr. Ware is concerned with linking truth with the affections and God-centered response.

Chapter six develops a theme that was originally explored by Christian thinkers like Augustine and Jonathan Edwards, namely – the Trinity as society or as Dr. Ware puts it, “in relational community.”  Ten key principles are presented that need to be fully digested and applied in the real world.

Dr. Ware has done in invaluable service for the church in this book.  He has unpacked the doctrine of the Trinity in a way that is clear and biblical.  He has skillfully applied this essential doctrine in a way that can strengthen a Reformed spirituality among believers.  And he has rightfully challenged the egalitarian movement with the biblical antidote that should define a new generation of Evangelicals.

Highly recommended!

5 stars